Making The Innovation Pitch

Assuming that you have a great idea, the next most important step is to create the pitch so that others will join and support you. You cannot under estimate the importance of a well thought out and delivered innovation pitch.

innovation pitch pitching your idea

Segment 1: Making The Innovation Pitch

Make sure the idea is ready
How big is the idea?
Understand how decisions are made
Work from their perspective
Structure the pitch

  • 5 second, 5 minute & 30 minute pitches
  • 10/20/30 (thanks to Guy Kawasaki)

Test your pitch
Deliver the pitch
Have a demonstration

Segment 2: Killer Question of the Week

Must be a yes to at least one of the following ….

  • Does this change the customer expectation?
  • Does this change the competition position?
  • Does this change the economics of the industry?

Must be a yes to both of the following …

  • Does the organization have something to contribute?
  • Will the idea/innovation generate sufficient revenue and margin?

Segment 3: Closing Thought

“To fulfill a dream … to be given a chance to create is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy!” Bette Davis.


[Start of Audio]

Coming up with ideas is hard enough.  Getting others to believe in them is even harder.  The majority of ideas fail when it comes to presenting the ideas to those who control the money.  How do you create a pitch that will unleash the resources you need for your ideas?  I’ll be right back.


This is the Killer Innovations Podcast with Phil McKinney.  Keep in mind that the information and opinions expressed in this podcast are Phil’s and Phil’s alone and they don’t necessarily reflect those of his past, current, or future employers.  Now, here’s Phil McKinney.


The basic idea of having an idea is that something has to change.  You are either creating a new product, modifying an existing one, proposing a change to a process, or some other change.  Even if your idea is the best thing ever invented, it’s the best thing since sliced bread, it’s still going to require someone to change.  And people are not that open to change no matter how great your idea is.  So when you and your idea come before someone that doesn’t want to change, you are starting off with a significant disadvantage.  As more organizations embrace change, no matter how uncomfortable it is, they create organizations and tools that allow for ideas to be submitted, to be reviewed, to be approved, to be validated, to be put into the market.  They look for those catalysts of change.  Old, stodgy organizations resist change and avoid enabling change to find any traction within the organization.  They in fact will spend an inordinate amount of time simply building roadblocks.  They’ll put in laborious processes, they’ll put in levels of management, they’ll put lots of things in place in order to prevent new ideas from coming in to the organization.  Now, since most of us don’t work for those types of organizations, the success of an idea falls on how well we do with our pitch.  Now keep in mind the better the pitch, the more likely we will be in finding an executive who will sponsor your idea. What are the steps to creating a killer pitch?  One, make sure your idea is ready.  The most common mistake I see is that people are pitching the idea too early in the process.  Some people get so wrapped in the early concept they spend all their time telling everyone how great their idea is well before they’ve thought through all the issues, the questions, the challenges that that idea is going to face.  Some of the people in this category get vocal about how, quote, management doesn’t get it.  How if management had half a brain they would be all over this idea.  Management gets it.  You haven’t put in the homework to have an idea that is far enough along.  You’re pitching the idea way too soon.  Have you thought through the entire lifecycle of that product? Have you thought through what are all the risks and issues that this product is going to have?  Have you thought about the competition?  Have you thought about the amount of investment?  The amount of return, the size of the market?  In many cases it’s all about the idea that this thing is going to be better, faster, cooler, but you haven’t thought through all of the other issues around the idea.  Don’t skimp on the homework.  Put the time in before you start thinking about the pitch.  Second, how big is your idea?  The bigger the idea, the more time, effort, and homework you’ll need to put in and invest in creating the pitch.  Some possible idea scopes, just to give you a feeling for the range, include first of all maybe some minor tweak to an existing product or service.  Maybe not a lot of homework, maybe it’s an idea that you can pitch and it’s easily grasped by the person on either side because they’re familiar with the product.  Two, a major new area in your core business.  So you’ve got a core of your business that you’re serving today whether it be your product, geography, customer segments, however you define core, but maybe it’s a major area.  That’s going to require a little bit more work.  What about taking your core business into logical adjacency, into a new market by customer segment, a new geography, whatever it is, but now you’re going to take that business into an adjacency where it doesn’t exist today.  That requires a little bit more homework on preparing for the pitch.  Next, what about an idea for an entirely new product or service?  No new product and, no, it’s not a product that you have today since it’s an entirely new area, it’s into not an adjacency but a totally new segment whether it be customer segment or geography.  But totally a new idea.  In this case, the homework and time that you’ve got to put into creating the pitch now is even higher.  And then what about if you want to actually propose a directional or philosophical change for the organization?  You want the business to go in an entirely new and different area, someplace it hasn’t even thought of.  Now you’re into kind of what I would call the stratosphere of homework and effort that’s going to be required in order to develop that pitch.  Now once you’ve identified the scope for your idea, you need to find someone in your organization who has successfully made a pitch internally to your organization with the same scope.  Now, if you’re the first person doing this within your organization, you’ve got a huge hurdle.  In that case, you need to find someone outside your organization who has developed a pitch whether that be for raising money or to their management team that had a similar scope and understand how they structured and what things they learned from delivering that pitch.  Now in some cases I wish there was a great book on this; I have not found it.  The best way is is to find people who have delivered similar scaled pitches to the organization, whether it’s inside your organization, or somebody outside that had a similar scope.  Now the key here is you understand what went right and what they would suggest the change is, you need to solicit them for it as a mentor to you through the process.  Now the process is challenging, the process is going to be hard.  You risk rejection, having this mentor in your corner can be a huge help.  Three, understand how decisions are made.  It’s key that you understand how the decisions are made within your organization.  Is this something that you control?  Is is somebody that’s a peer of yours within the organization that they can control the decision?  Is it your boss?  Is it somebody else’s boss?  Is it somebody else in the organization who you’ve never met?  Or, the ultimate problem is that you don’t know who will make the decision or how the decisions are made.  It’s not just about who has the power to approve your idea, but you also have to identify and understand influencers.  These are key advisors who may not be in the decision path, but who can either support or kill your idea, and you need to go find these influencers and have them understand your idea and your pitch.  Now if there is an existing process to submit and gain approval for ideas, then follow it, but be careful.  You’ll need to be aware of the unwritten reviews or steps that can derail your idea from getting approved.  For example, maybe there’s already been three ideas submitted around a particular subject and the subject that you are pitching.  And management is just hesitant to support one more idea.  You may have a great idea but now you’ve hit the wall.  So you need to u
nderstand these subtleties, these unwritten reviews or steps or thinking processes that management is using when they’re looking for these ideas.  Four, work from their perspective.  Put yourself in the shoes of the person or persons who will hear your pitch. What is their perspective?  What is their background, are they technical?  Can you be technical in your presentation, or, maybe they come from a sales background and you need to be less technical in your pitching.  What in their history defines how they will look at your idea?  Are they ones that have successfully pitched ideas and that’s how their career advanced?  Or has their entire career been at avoiding new ideas?  And so therefore you’re going to have your work really cut out for you.  One thing to understand is how many unsolicited pitches do they review.  If the person they’ll be pitching you is involved in this area and it’s part of their just day-to-day job, they will see lots of pitches.  In this case, you need to stand out.  In my case, I see literally hundreds of pitches and pretty soon they all start looking and sounding the same.  You need to be different, you need to stand out, you need to be respectful of who it is you’re pitching to.  Don’t get the idea that you can go in there and commandeer the majority of their time, that they’re going to dedicate a half a day out of their schedule to hear your one idea.  Be respectful of their time and be different when you’re pitching your idea.  Five, spend the time structuring the pitch.  Don’t just come in and shoot from the hip or come in on a white board and try to draw something out in order just to get your ideas across.  Spend the time, structure your pitch.  So for all pitches think in threes.  What am I talking about?  First off, think of three levels of depth for your pitch.  You need to come up with a five-second pitch, a five-minute pitch, and a 30-minute pitch.  Now I’ll talk about that here in a second.  Secondly, follow the three presentation rules.  Ten, 20, 30 for your 30-minute presentation.  So the rules are 10-20-30 for your 30-minute presentation and I’ll talk about what I mean by 10, 20 and 30.  So let’s give some details here.  Let’s talk about depth first.  The levels of depth allow you to deliver your pitch whenever the time is right because you never know when the time is right.  You don’t know when you’re going to find yourself standing in line at the elevator or you’re going to find yourself walking down the hallway with a key executive.  So you need to have these different depths of pitches ready and handy in order to deliver your pitch when the time is right.  Each should be built in support of the others so they’re not stand-alone, they’re not a separate five-second, five minute and 30-minute pitch.  You need to build them up so they actually support each other.  Now the one that gives the most trouble is the five-second pitch.  Now when I’ve talked about the five-second pitch with people even on my team, many believe that a five-second pitch cannot be created, there’s no such thing as a five-second pitch.  Wrong.  And in fact a five-second pitch in some cases can be the most critical because it’s going to be the hook that’s going to give that executive, or pique that executive’s interest to the point where they’ll take the meeting and they’ll listen to your idea.  So, here are some examples of the five-second pitch.  So, if you, in your case if you’re day-to-day job or your ideas are around such things as, oh, I don’t know, developing an artificial intelligence based computer firewall.  Sounds cool.  Sounds complex.  What’s the five-second pitch?  Well, the five-second pitch is basically it makes your PC more secure.  That’s all the person needs to know.  They don’t need to know about the history of artificial intelligence or computer firewalls but that you’ve found a better way to make your PC more secure.  Let’s go back to something even more fundamental; let’s say it’s your business inventing light bulbs.  What’s the five-second pitch?  In this case the five-second pitch is it’s a way to make light from electricity.  You can create the five-second pitch and the five-second pitch is actually extremely critical to get that hook in order to get that person or that executive to listen to the rest of your idea.  Now, the five-minute and 30-minute version of the pitch are supported by what is used in the five-second pitch, so I typically suggest people to come up with a five-second pitch first if they can.  If not, work on the five-minute pitch and then go back to creating the five-second pitch.  Now you’re going to jump back and forth across all three, but it’s key to make sure that they are all supportive of each other.  Now depending on the format of your presentation, you may in fact deliver both or all three of the five-second, five-minute and 30-minute pitch at the same time.  So the five-second sets the context early in the pitch – what is it you’re doing?  The five-minute gives the framework of the problem, the why and the approach, how.  Then the 30-minute pitch provides the detail of what results you’ll deliver with the right support and the right resources that you’re asking for.  So again the five-second sets the context early as to what, the five-minute gives the framework of the problem, the why and the approach.  The 30-minute provides the detail of what results you will deliver with the right support and the right resources.  Now what I mean by the 10, 20 and 30 Rule that I talked about earlier?  Now the 10, 20 and 30 Rule comes from Guy Kawasaki who is actually one of the very first Apple evangelists and who has written many books and I’ve actually talked about his books and some of his books are available on the Killer Innovations Tool Kit site.  And basically what Guy is talking about in this 10, 20 and 30 Rule is fundamentally rule number one, 10, no more than 10 slides in your entire pitch.  Second, 20 – last no more than 20 minutes.  Leave time for Q&A and discussions.  In my case nobody ever leaves time for the Q&A.  A 30-minute presentation and coming to you with 45 slides, you leave no time for questions, you don’t even get through your entire slide deck, there’s not enough time for questions.  Questions can’t be answered; you’ve lost the opportunity to win the pitch.  And last but not least, no less than a 30-point font.  Many of you just are cringing at that thought but in many cases, the slides come in with way too much text, text that could never be read, never could be understood and you obviously don’t understand your pitch well enough.  So again follow the 10-20-30 Rule.  No more than 10 slides, last no more than 20 minutes, no less than a 30-point font.  This will force you to be disciplined on pitching your idea because if you can get down to this 10, 20 and 30 Rule and have a five-second pitch, five-minute, 30-minute pitch, you are going to have a killer pitch just from the standpoint of this is going to force you to really think through your idea and how your idea applies.  Now, a quick point on what should be presented in the pitch.  So what are the areas that you need to cover in the pitch and I’m just going to cover this quickly, I’m not going to go into detail, many of you are going to have this as background, but I just want to include it in the list here.  One, define the problem.  Two, define your solution.  Three, define the business model.  Four, define the underlying magic.  Whatever it is, the secret sauce of the idea that you’ve come up with.  Five, define the marketing and sales the go to market.  Six, define the competition, and there’s always competition.  Don’t ever go into a pitch and say that there is no such thing as
competition; there’s always competition.  Seven, define the team, the team that’s going to go make this idea a reality.  Eight, deliver the projections and the milestones.  Nine, deliver the status and the timeline.  How much work did you put in it so far and what is the timeline through to completion?  And, ten deliver the summary and the call to action.  And the call to action is critical because that’s the “ask” – what are you asking for?  Now, going on to the construction of your pitch the next is test your pitch.  Now this should go without saying but for some reason people don’t practice.  They don’t practice delivering it; they don’t practice getting in front of people.  Go and find people who will give you honest feedback.  Videotape yourself if you have availability of a video camera.  Show the videotape to others.  Pitch it live to other people.  Ask them to pretend to be whomever it is you’ll pitch to.  Is it the CEO?  Is it Donald Trump?  Is it your boss?  Whoever it is, ask them to play that role and for them to ask questions.  Challenge your assumptions.  Critique your idea, critique the approach, and critique your slides.  Critique everything.  This is the point where you want to get the critique and criticism so that you can get better, not while you’re delivering the real pitch when you’re trying to win the right resources for your idea.  So test your pitch and then listen, okay?  Next, deliver the pitch.  Now if you have a great idea, you’ve done your homework, you’ve developed your pitch, you’ve practiced it, you should be ready.  However, nerves always seem to kick in.  Now I’ve seen, you know, very competent employees and even executives come in and when they come in to pitch an idea it’s their idea – they’ve really put themselves into this idea, so they’ve got themselves sitting out there in this pitch and so therefore any critique or any failure they take it extremely personally.  The key here is is be calm, be direct, don’t wander off pitch.  When you get nervous, you tend to wander off the message.  Don’t wander.  State your case and answer the questions that you’re asked.  Be prepared to respond to the most likely questions that you’ll be asked.  Go through and create yourself a list of the most common questions and pre-write up your answers.  So why is it you, why are you coming up with this idea, why is it should be you to run its program?  Can you do it in half the time?  How much do you need?  Can you do it for less?  What would be the impact if we asked you to add a certain feature to your idea?  Be prepared to clearly to state also what you’re asking for.  What is it you want to make your idea a reality?  And this is where a lot of people have a problem.  Sales guys will always have the ask; they know that they – if they don’t ask for the sale, they’re not going to get it.  People who are not in the sales role get in the room to do the pitch, they deliver the pitch and they’re expecting that the person who’s listening to ask the question as to what they want.  Don’t wait for the question.  Clearly state your ask.  Be prepared to present the next steps and when you would come back to present the program status if you give me X today with X number of resources, I’ll be back in 60 days I’ll show you this, we’ll have spent this much money and I’ll have completed a more detailed play, you know, blah, blah, blah.  Whatever it is.  Clearly state the ask, clearly state what the next steps are and when you’re going to come back and when you’re going to present the program status.  And last, demonstration.  When you’re giving the 30-minute pitch have something to show.  As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words?  A prototype, even if it’s non-functional, is worth a million words.  Not a thousand words, it’s worth a million words.  I’ve seen a simple but elegant model turn what was a struggling pitch into a success because the executives could see what was being talked about.  Putting something in their hands, putting something up on the screen other than text, you know, if it’s a Web page, a mock up of the Web page, if it’s an application, show them a mockup of the application.  Whatever it is, show something.  This is a show and tell.  Now you don’t need a big budget, you don’t need a bunch of industrial designers, the demonstration could be a mockup showing them PowerPoint, it could be a Photoshop photo image to show what – how something might look.  If you really want to build a physical, 3D model and you don’t have the funds to it, go to one of the design colleges.  Hire a student.  Now don’t be cheap.  Don’t hire a student and then expect them to do it as part of his class project and then you don’t pay him.  Don’t be cheap, but hire a student.  You’re going to get somebody that’s young, aggressive, creative.  Pay them and also give them credit where the credit is deserved, but that’s one way to get yourself something that you can use in the show itself.  I can’t overstate this enough; having something you can show is critical even for the five-second and five-minute, having something you can pull out and show goes a long way toward winning the support of those executives.  Having something they can physically put in their hands is – I mean, again, I just can’t overstate it.  It goes a long way toward winning support you need to really get that idea to become a reality because they can visualize what it is they have in their hand and what the resulting product will do.  Now, with all of that if you’ve done all that perfectly and you’ve followed the rules and you’ve got your five-second, five-minute, 30-minute pitch, you’ve followed the 10-20-30 Rule, you’ve followed the structure but you still get in front of those executives and they say no.  So what if the pitch fails.  Well, face it; you’re not going to have 100 percent of your pitches result in support from management or investors.  So review the pitch and ask yourself what parts didn’t they agree with?  What did they not agree with?  They may not have said it, but they might have given you some body language.  In many cases if they tell you no you can always go back either in an e-mail or in person and ask them, hey, what was it in the pitch that you didn’t agree with?  Also go back to your assumptions.  What assumptions did they not accept?  Did you make an assumption on the market size?  Did you make an assumption on the availability of technology?  What were the assumptions that you had that they did not agree with?  If someone else was in the room during the pitch ask for their feedback and most importantly listen.  Don’t go off and assume that management doesn’t get it.  Start with the assumption that you need to fix the pitch.  You need to do something differently in the pitch in order to convince management that you’ve got the right idea.  And most important don’t give up.  Don’t stop after the first pitch.  If you give up this easily on something like the pitch, would you really be the one to see this project through to completion if you give up that easily?  Who else can you give the pitch to?  Other people within your organization or possibly individuals outside of your company?  However, make sure you maintain confidentiality if it’s a pitch on a product or service that you’ve given to your management team.  But find others to give the pitch to, don’t give up.  Refine the pitch.  Go back to the management team and present the pitch again once you’ve approved it.  But go off with the assumption that you need to go fix the pitch, don’t go off with the assumption that quote management just doesn’t get it.  So in summary, the pi
tch is the critical step to gaining support for your idea unless you’re born rich, you need to secure money, resources, equipment and expertise and the way to secure that is the pitch.  The pitch can be to team members to convince them to join your team, that pitch could be to investors, that pitch could be to your management team, but you’ve got to have the pitch.  Now I’ve seen many ideas fail because of a poor pitch.  Great phenomenal idea, but the person could just not structure the pitch in such a way that the person on the other side could understand what it is and clearly have an understand of what the ask is and to be able to say yes.  Do your homework, don’t go in and just pitch off the cuff.  Do your homework depending on the size of the idea, the size and scope of the opportunity, the scope and impact of the organization, but do your homework.  Understand the different depth of pitches you need to present.  Prepare your five-second, five-minute and 30-minute pitches and get those ready and practice them and follow the 10-20-30 Rule.  Just by following the 10, 20 and 30 Rule it shows that you respect the time of the person you’re pitching.  And last, but not least, have something to show.  Have a prototype, have a demonstration.  Get a million words working for your idea.

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This week’s “Killer Question” may be a repeat for regular listeners of the podcast.  This has been covered before but they are so critical I felt it was worth repeating.  So in support of the pitch, it’s important that you answer the critical five questions to validate that your idea is worthy of the opportunity costs of time, resource and investment.  Now, you must have a yes for at least one of the following three questions.  You must have a yes for at least one of the following three questions.  Does this idea change the customer’s expectations?  Are you fundamentally changing the customer’s expectations?  Does this idea change the competitive landscape of the market?  And does this change the economics of the industry?  Now if you have an idea that does not change the expectations, does not change the competitive landscape and does not change the economics, then why are you wasting everybody’s time?  You have to have a yes to at least one of these questions.  Does this change the customer’s expectation?  Does this change the competitive landscape of the market?  And does this change the economics of the industry?  So, assuming your idea has a yes to one of those questions, then you have to have a yes to both of the following questions.  Does your organization have something to contribute and will this idea generate enough revenue and margin?  Now why these two questions?  First off, does your organization have something to contribute?  Well, let’s face it.  Large corporations in particular potentially have a lot of cash on hand and can go do a lot of interesting things with money.   But do they have expertise, are they structured such a way, can they effectively bring something to the market?  So it has to match up at something’s the core business is at least focused in on.  So does your organization have something to contribute?  Secondly, will this idea generate enough revenue and margin?  This is fundamental to the business.  Now, if you’re a non-profit, maybe you change this last question to mean something else, but from a standpoint of a for-profit business, that last one is critical.  You need to be able to show how your idea is going to generate enough revenue and enough margin to warrant a return against the investment.  So again one more time this week’s Killer Question.  You must be able to answer yes to at least one of the following three questions.  Does this change the customer’s expectation?  Does this change the competitive landscape of the market?  And does this change the economics of the industry?  And then you must be able to answer yes to both of the following two questions: Does your organization have something to contribute and will this idea generate enough revenue and margin?

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This week’s closing thought is about self-fulfillment.  Now let’s face it.  You’re listening to this podcast because you either are innovating or you want to innovate or you want to get better at innovating products, services, businesses, whatever it is.  As I stated at the start of the podcast, ideas are easy – but it’s the fulfillment of having seen the ideas come to reality that drives most of us.  Bette Davis said it best:  “To fulfill a dream, to be given a chance to create is the meat and potatoes of life.  The money is the gravy.”


Thanks for listening to this week’s podcast.  Send your feedback and comments to or you can skype me at phil_mckinney.  For the show notes on today’s show along with the archives for all of the previous shows which are going from about 70 shows – I think we’re approaching almost 40-45 hours of podcasts now in the archive, and you can find the entire archive in the show notes for all previous shows at  Don’t forget to vote for your favorite podcast over at, iTunes, yahoo!, Podcast Pickle or whatever podcast site you visit.  It’s the easiest way for you to let the producers of your favorite podcast know that you truly do appreciate the time and effort that go into producing the content.  And pay it forward by telling others.  Visit the other content on the Killer Innovations site, things on the Killer Innovations site include my personal blog, the Killer Innovations Reblog, which is content found on the Web all on creativity and innovation, it’s a one-stop location for you to keep up on the latest articles and the latest writings on creativity and innovation.  The innovation Toolkit books, cards, tools and tricks that you can use if you’re running innovation programs within your organization and the Killer Innovations Community site where you can get together with other listeners of the Killer Innovations Podcast, share your thoughts, ask your questions and get the benefit of having that community supporting you as you go out and create your next killer idea.  Thanks again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to listen to this podcast, I know it is a lot of time to go out there, pull it down, load it up, listen to it.  I do appreciate the value of your time that you put into to listening to the podcast and providing me with the feedback and your thoughts.  I’ll talk to you again real soon, bye-bye.


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